It started out as a small cocktail hour with a simple floral headdress competition at The Beacham put on by the Hope and Help Center of Central Florida, a nonprofit created by a group of volunteers who wanted to help inspire, equip and mobilize people to take action against HIV and AIDS.
But what started as a nonprofit’s small event about 26 years ago has now become a full-on, Las Vegas style show with dinner, dancing, a silent auction and awards. One thing hasn’t changed though — the center’s mission to help people who are confronted with a disease that still carries a heavy stigma and prevent its spread.
The words HIV and AIDS evoke memories of a very scary time for many people who lived through the ‘80s and ‘90s, and, in fact, many people think of these diseases as a thing of the past. But, although a diagnosis of HIV is no longer a death sentence, there is still a serious problem with stopping the spread of the disease and helping those who have contracted it to manage it, according to Russell Walker, the event manager for the Hope and Help Center of Central Florida.
Walker, along with other members of the organization and numerous volunteers, is helping put on the center’s 26th annual Headdress Ball. The show, which has been dubbed “Orlando’s most outrageous black-tie event,” will be held Oct. 17 at the Hilton Orlando.
This year’s special guest star will be Mary Murphy, best known as a judge on the TV dancing competition show, “So You Think You Can Dance.” Tickets are still on sale and can be purchased through the event’s website.
Johnny Damon, a Major League Baseball outfielder, along with his wife Michelle are major supporters of the Headdress Ball, and Michelle Damon was even the event chair for last year’s event. “The Infection rate is very alarming in Florida,” a press release from the Hope and Help Center quoted the couple, of Windermere, as saying. “We have to go out and educate and raise awareness of HIV and AIDS.”
In Florida, the diseases’ spread among young people is particularly troubling with the state ranked as number three for adolescents (ages 13 to 19) living with diagnosed HIV infections. Meanwhile, Orlando is ranked eighth in the nation for new HIV infections, according to the US Census. “For us, the best thing you can do is talk to your kids,” Walker says.
The spread of the disease is caused by many factors including unsafe sex and needle sharing between drug users. But one of the biggest problems may be that those who have it don’t even know it, Walker says.
It’s preventable,” Walker says. “We just need to have awkward and honest discussions about it.”